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From Prickly Paragraphs: WHITE ADROMISCHUS
A Commemorative Cornucopia, published by Coventry & District Branch BCSS (1987)
by the late Bryan Makin [Other articles by BM on this web site:
A. hemisphaericus, A. leucophyllus.]

"When one has been keen on a particular genus for forty years, as I have on Adromischus, it is not unusual to be asked about favourites. I have no hesitation in stating my great liking for those with white or near-white leaves. It is not that they are necessarily the most beautiful, though beauty is a matter of personal taste anyway, but there is something about the white ones which makes me wish never to be without them, and makes them just that little bit special.

Botanically, they are a mixed bag. They may fall into just two of the five Sections of Tölken's revised genus, but visually they differ quite a lot. It is this considerable diversity within a small number of species and forms that adds greatly to their aesthetic appeal in my eyes.

The species concerned are AA. leucophyllus, marianiae var. hallii, umbraticola and subviridis, plus one natural hybrid, which I have seen but never grown. There is no special significance in that order except that A. leucophyllus, whose name means "white-leaved", is the one which obviously springs to mind first, so I'll start by discussing that one.

A. leucophyllus was one of the first Adro's I grew, back in 1947, when I rooted a leaf that had come down to me from a plant of J. T. Bates and I've never been without it since. It grows very readily from leaves and soon makes a presentable plant, an inch or two high with oval, slightly convex leaves densely covered in white meal or farina. Covered, that is, until one accidentally touches a leaf and the meal smudges off, never to return. There's only one thing for it then - to remove the offended leaf and place the pot somewhere a bit safer.

That is the main drawback to this species, but no reason at all for not growing it. The leaf you take off will make a new plant and give you a second chance of producing an object of pristine loveliness. The ease with which a plant can be spoilt by even a moment's carelessness adds enormously to the chances of a perfect specimen in a show, because it should gain full marks for difficulty of cultivation at the very least. Rarity counts for very little, so it hardly matters that it isn't rare. However, even the odd point for rarity could be picked up if you have the uncommon red-spotted form.

Four Adromischus leucophyllus clones
Four clones of A. leucophyllus in 2 3/4" pots.

For some reason this red-spotted form appears only at the higher altitudes in the wild. It was quite a surprise when I first came across such plants in 1954 as I had no idea the spotted form existed. I came across a stand of it, not just a single specimen, on top of a ridge above the little town of Montagu at the western end of the Little Karoo, yet all the plants on the lower slopes had been of the pure white form. In the spotted plants, the meal was either very thin or entirely missing on the spots themselves, so that they stood out against the otherwise white leaf to give a very striking result.

At that time, it was thought that Montagu was the only habitat of this species and so it was stated when the species was validly described and named in the NCSS Journal later in 1954. It was a surprise to find that this plant, which was widely known under the very apt name of "A. leucophyllus", had never been validly published, but this was put right by Uitewaal, using also some habitat details which I had contributed. However, Harry Hall found the same species in the Anysberg region, some fifty miles or so north-east of Montagu. Subsequently Peter Bruyns came across it in several places in the Witteberg range to the north and, in 1985, I found it at the top of a mountain in the Rooinek Pass, south of Laingsburg and much further east than the previous localities. Thus the habitat range of A. leucophyllus is now known to be much wider than originally thought.
A. leucophyllus in habitat near Montagu
A. leucophyllus photographed by Harry Hall in 1958 near Montagu.

As in my earlier discovery in 1954, the high altitude plants in the Rooinek Pass turned out to be the spotted form, but I didn't find any with the very dark red spots that I'd seen above Montagu. Surprisingly, there were no plants on the middle slopes like there had been at Montagu.

Apart from its touch-me-not quality, A. leucophyllus is very straightforward in cultivation. It accepts a winter rest period and flowers in summer producing pure white flower stems and buds and pink wide-open flowers. The spent flower stems must be removed with the utmost care to avoid damage to the leaves and, of course, bright light produces compact growth.

Having already mentioned Harry Hall, I will now consider the species which was named after him by P.C. Hutchison - A. hallii - but which has since been revised by Helmut Tölken as A. marianiae var. hallii - same plant but now needs a bigger label!

The type locality for this one is at the foot of the Buchu Twins (mountains) in the "diamond area" to the north of Alexander Bay. [DT: an error - Hutchison in the original CSJA description quotes Harry Hall as explicitly identifying the TL as the other Buchu Twins mountains, "about ten miles south of Alexander Bay", nowadays mapped as the Boegoeberg-Noord & Suid]. It was there that Harry Hall first found it in the full glare of the sun, but snuggled down in sandy pockets in the rocks, as a protection against the perpetual sand-blasting along that windy coast.

Adromischus marianiae hallii
A. marianiae var. hallii as grown by Bryan.

Even in cultivation it maintains a very low profile with growing points slowly spreading in a tight, fleshy base over thick, tuberous roots. The typical form has fat, rounded leaves with a horny margin which, in the wild, is often dark red and shows up well against the nearly white, waxy bloom which covers the rest of the leaf. The degree to which both of these features is achieved in cultivation is governed by the amount of strong light falling on the plant. A shelf near the glass is indicated, but I have seen a very nice specimen on the staging of a fully exposed greenhouse in West Yorkshire.

Since that first discovery, plants have been found in other parts of N.W. Namaqualand and in southern S.W.A./Namibia, which must be referred to this variety although some differ a lot in shape and markings. Plants with more pointed leaves, less white in colour but bearing dark red spots were found near Umdaus, in the Richtersveld, by Harry Hall and, in the Tölken concept, these have to be that variety. Tölken himself figures a similar form from south-west Namibia. I have found this form to be much slower in growth than the type but it does produce a very similar, short, stocky flower stem covered in white bloom.

When Tom Jenkins visited S.W.A./Namibia he found Adromischus plants in the Obib Mountains and others in the Aurus Mountains which have turned out to be this variety, plain-leaved and biconvex like the type, though less white in colour. My plant of the Obib form lacks the dark red, horny margin, but the Aurus one develops it very readily and is making a very tight and attractive mound.

Adromischus schuldtianus juttae Naip
A. schuldtianus subsp. juttae , SH1383 from Naip, Bushmanland.

More recently a form has been collected on the Naip Plateau, in north-western Bushmanland, which has rather longer and flatter, lanceolate leaves with a wavy, horny margin at the ends. This is a very attractive, tight-clustering plant with the typical stocky, white flower stem, but its colour is more of a pinky-grey than white. [DT: This appears to be a westerly A. schuldtianus subsp. juttae from the photo.]

Back in the late fifties, Vera Higgins gave me a piece of a plant which, on leaf shape at least, seemed to be the recently published A. hallii P.C. Hutch., though it wasn't as white. When it flowered, however, it was clearly something else and, when P.C.H. visited me in 1960, he identified it as a very squat-leaved form of A. umbraticola, an eastern species from the Transvaal. Whilst most of the forms are not at all white, there is one that is and it has the twin virtues of being well distributed and easy to grow. The sturdy oblanceolate leaves are densely covered in white to pinkish-white, waxy meal and there is a dark red horny margin round the end. It forms a dense, squat plant and produces whitish flower stems which often tend to droop forwards as they develop before finally straightening.
Adromischus umbraticola
One of Bryan's Adromischus umbraticolas.

A. umbraticola belongs in a botanical Section of just three species, called Boreali which means "northern" (as in Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights) since they include the most northerly occurring of all the species of Adromischus. There is one feature about the inflorescence of these three which differs noticeably from all the rest, though I've never seen it mentioned in anything I've read. Although the individual buds arise spirally from the axis of the flower stem, they twist round so that by the time they open they are facing more or less in the same direction and not necessarily towards the sun.

Beautiful though the white A. umbraticola is, I have recently received a leaf from an enthusiast in California in which the white surface is well broken up by red spots and blotches, so this promises to develop into a real cracker.

The last species in my list is one which has intrigued me for a long time, ever since I first met up with it in the early fifties, when a newly-found plant arrived from my late friend Harry Hall. Material was also sent to Paul Hutchison, at the University Botanical Garden in California, who recognised it was a completely new species. He proposed to grow and flower it and then publish a description under the name 'A. farinosus'. However, events overtook him and he left Botany before this could be done and the plant remained undescribed.

Red spotted Adromischus umbraticola
Possibly Bryan's red spotted A. umbraticola.

By Adromischus standards this is a medium-tall plant, stem forming and with large dorsiventrally flattened leaves with a sharply keeled margin, variably decorated with red spots and blotches and the whole plant covered in a white bloom or farina. Some plants have narrower leaves than others, but the big surprise comes at flowering time. Although the leaf shape and size are similar to the more southerly species A. maculatus, the flower structure obviously places it with that Section of the genus which contains A. marianiae var. hallii and within which, it stands out as a veritable giant.

In 1978 Tölken published his new species A. subviridis, based on a single plant collected in the Blaukranz Pass. After some consideration on my part, since there was no illustration to help, it became clear that this was indeed the same species as the now old, but unpublished, 'A. farinosus' which had proved tricky to grow and was therefore hardly known in cultivation. Obviously Tölken didn't know it and I knew it had not survived long in Kirstenbosch. Such differences as there were between the description of A. subviridis and my remaining material could be reasonably ascribed to Tölken having found only the one specimen and the location being some miles further east, which could introduce some extra element of variation.
Adromischus subviridis near Grasberg
'A. farinosus' photographed by Bryan near Grasberg.

It became my great wish to seek out this species in the wild, but I was to make two fruitless attempts, before I finally succeeded at the third. I decided, this final time, to arrive in the area via the Blaukranz Pass and spend the night close to where 'A. farinosus' had been found. After the two earlier attempts, I realised that the modern road probably did not follow the precise line that the old dirt road had taken, so I took the precaution of contacting a farmer in the area who was willing to show me where the old road was.

Unfortunately, Blaukranz Pass was reached very late in the afternoon and I had driven right through the long pass before I realised that the only possible stopping place on such a narrow, twisting road by then lay some miles back. So I had to press on and abandon any search in the Pass. An early start the next morning led to the realisation of my dream and I was able to walk at last among scores of plants of this superb Adromischus. The gleaming whiteness of the leaves made them stand out against whatever background with an almost infinite variation in the red markings.

I collected some leaves, but one of the unusual features of this species is that leaves are by no means certain to produce plants. Even now, after more than a year, barely half of them have made shoots and I have already given away all I dare. My walk amongst the wild plants confirmed my belief that there would be variation enough to accommodate the narrow leaf in Tölken's description of his single specimen, so I have no doubt that my plants are A. subviridis. A pity I could not search in the Pass, but the planned itinerary allowed no time to go back.

Adromischus subviridis near Karoskloof
An unusually large and dehydrated A. subviridis photographed by DT at Karoskloof.

Finally a fisherman's tale of the one that got away; the hybrid I mentioned earlier as having seen but never grown, and for this we must go back to Montagu and 1954.

I spent two days studying the Adromischus on the hillside and ridge that I referred to and there were also other species than A. leucophyllus growing there. On the flat ground as I left the road, for instance, were spreading plants of what is now known as A. filicaulis subsp. marlothii but which many of us still grow as 'A. mammillaris'. This gave way on the lower slopes to fine plants of a large-leaved form of A. maculatus where hardly two plants had identical markings. In turn these gave way, on the barer middle slopes, to the pure white A. leucophyllus. This gave out way below the ridge and was replaced at the top by spotted forms of the same and, in one small area, by several plants of A. caryophyllaceus, a rather dull green plant but with large and striking flowers.

It occurred to me whilst I was still at the top on the second day, that both the A. maculatus and A. leucophyllus were in flower down below me. It might be a worthwhile exercise on the way down to cast about along the line where they came closest together, to see if I could spot any evidence of hybridisation. I spent quite a long time at this and was almost ready to give up when I spotted it, hidden from view on the approach side by a sheltering shrub, but suddenly fully visible as I looked back and stopped in amazement. I hadn't really known what I was looking for but, unmistakably, this was it.
Steven Hammer, Mr Buhr, Grasberg
Farmer Mr Buhr and Steven Hammer prepare for a day in the veld around the Grasberg farm in 1985.

It was a substantial plant with several stems or branches and large thick leaves, thicker it seemed than the A. maculatus but not quite as big. They were freely decorated with red spots and every other portion of the leaf was heavily covered in a pure white meal, as dense as the densest A. leucophyllus. It was so beautiful that I just hadn't the heart to dig it up. So I cut off one stem and carefully put it in my bag. The most beautiful Adromischus I've ever seen and yet I've never grown it. I mailed home five parcels of plants from my first trip to South Africa. One box never arrived.

Last Updated: Jan 2005
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© 1987 Bryan Makin, UK